O.S. Thyagarajan on the enduring appeal of Margazhi, the simplicity of vidwans and why he made the city his home

My journey from the national to the cultural capital was not about traversing geographical distance, it was a voyage of self-discovery, an artistic expedition but more importantly, it was a travel back in time to soak in the sampradaya of Carnatic music.

Before settling down in Madras, every year I would gladly leave behind the biting winters of Delhi to enjoy the misty Margazhi air, take part in the annual music celebrations and witness the largest gathering of rasikas here. You may be busy performing through the year, but Margazhi kutcheris have always had a special appeal and flavour.

The Season then meant a few prominent sabhas, many restful sessions of music and relaxed and discerning listeners who savoured and analysed every note. The audience knew what to expect from each vidwan, who had remarkably distinctive styles. They had some compositions and ragas as their specialities… rather a concert trademark. There was an unspoken understanding between stalwarts; they would never tread into each other's area of specialisation.

Mention Karaharapriya ragam or ‘Chakani Raja' and Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer immediately came to mind. Listeners flocked to hear Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar's rendition of ‘Sree Subrahmanya Namaste'. Rasikas could never have enough of Madurai Mani Iyer's ‘Sarasa Sama Dhana' in Kapi Narayani while ‘Radha Sametha Krishna' in Yaman was a favourite of G.N. Balasubramaniam.

Artistes performed only when invited. Seeking opportunities was unheard of. They chose the time and date of their kutcheri. Their concert calendars were never crammed. And they ensured there was enough time between performances to unwind and prepare.

Hearing these musical giants meant free lessons on aesthetic sensibilities and developing a sound understanding of the various aspects of this classical art. There was mutual respect and admiration among the old-world artistes, who when not performing could be seen sitting among the first few rows at kutcheris of their contemporaries or sometimes would even come to listen to a promising youngster.

Apart from hard initial training under my father O.V. Subramaniam, Tiger Varadachariar and Tanjore Ponniah Pillai, it was the valuable guidance, encouragement and support of generous masters such as Lalgudi Jayaraman and T.M. Thygarajan that earned me the reputation of a musician with undiluted values. They approached teaching in a holistic manner. It was not just about preparing students for stage performances. Vadyars ensured understanding the art in its totality and groomed thinking musicians.

The legends of the past remain so because of their vidwat, sense of dignity and a modest vision. I have seen Madurai Mani Iyer going to a kutcheri sitting in a mattu vandi with Lalgudi Jayaraman and Pazhani Subramania Pillai walking behind. Umayalpuram Sivaraman once arrived for a concert lugging his mridangam in a cycle rickshaw. The most touching moment was when at a Music Academy concert, M.S. Anantharaman put down his violin as a mark of appreciation after I sang a Bhairavi piece. It was heartening when many of the acclaimed names accompanied me on stage — Lalgudi Jayaraman, Palghat Raghu,

Trichy Sankaran, M.S. Gopalakrishnan, M.S. Anantharaman and Karaikudi Mani. They even took time out to help me embellish my music with their valuable inputs. Lalgudi sir would invite me home for long discussions. Such was their involvement and large-heartedness.

At one of my initial concerts at Krishna Gana Sabha as part of their talent promotion series, I was highly-appreciated for my rendition of ‘Nidhi chaala sukhama' in Kalyani ragam and also for some of my GNB-inspired technical flourishes. A landmark concert, it proved to be a turning point in my career as other sabhas took notice of this and invited me to perform. I owe it to the late Yagnaraman, the secretary of Krishna Gana Sabha, who after hearing me on the radio, called me in Delhi and offered me a prestigious platform.

The experience was overwhelming. Heart is where art is — with each passing year I became eager to shift base and I finally did. To sing to audiences in Madras, hear stalwarts and imbibe from their music — this is the sotthu (treasure) I have earned.

I remember

It was a concert organised for a small audience by my French friends in Pondicherry. The venue was bustling with people when I arrived. The miffed security man stopped me at the gate and said I could stand at the entrance if I wanted to hear the music. Later, when he came to know I was the performing artiste, he could not hide his embarrassment.

BIO Born on April 3, 1947, is known for his adherence to tradition and unalloyed classicism. He had his early training from his musician-father O.V. Subramaniam and from legendary artistes Tiger Varadachariar and Tanjore Ponniah Pillai. A top grade artiste of the All India Radio and Doordarshan, he has been performing across the country and abroad. His vidwat has been recognised with awards from cultural organisations.